Branding expert Frank Norton wants local companies to push things

Photography by Natalea Bonjour.

Growing up in Springfield, Frank Norton was always drawing. His early fascination with packaging, neon signs, book covers, movie posters and pop culture drove him to pursue a degree in graphic design and illustration at Missouri State. Early in his career, Frank picked up a copy of Garrett Oliver’s book The Brewmaster’s Table and found a passion for beer. Thirsty for a new creative challenge, he sent a handful of work samples to Boulevard Brewing Company on a whim. There wasn’t an official job opening, but they hired him full-time as a designer. He worked his way up to become the art director, a role in which he designed packaging, named several of the iconic beers (Space Camper, Easy Sport, Phantom Haze) and some not-so-iconic beers (Lickable Wallpaper). Now, the thirty-five-year-old designer is making a name for himself in the Kansas City hospitality scene by pushing brands to embrace individuality.

How is KC keeping up with larger cities when it comes to design and branding? A decade ago, I’d travel to larger cities and see restaurants and bars taking bold approaches with their branding—incorporating illustration, embracing a unique point of view, doing things that you might not see everywhere. It comes from huge competition, the need to stand out, and the acknowledgment that design is part of the experience. I’ve noticed an increased appreciation for this philosophy as the community continues to grow and change. People are learning to be less shy about being themselves and standing out. It’s been great to see so many folks open the bar or restaurant or brewery or distillery that they’ve been dreaming about forever.

Tell me about some of your favorite projects you’ve been a part of. I love working with people who are pushing the culture forward in some way and pursuing their passion, following their own path. Designing a beer can or pizza box or menu becomes this micro experience that goes out into the world. So much of our environment is built but not designed, not thought through, or void of any emotion, which results in a lot of visual pollution or boring material. When these little mundane moments of our life become reimaged as a creative opportunity built to support a larger experience, it can create this millisecond of delight that wasn’t there before—even if it’s subconscious.

I really enjoyed working with Spencer Sight on the No Vacancy project. We started with the naming process, then moved on to design, signage and eventually supporting pieces like glassware, matchbooks and a neighborhood guide. Sura Noodle Bar is another standout. I worked with Keeyoung Kim on the branding.

What pushed you to take the leap to start your own business? Starting my own freelance practice had kind of always been in the back of my mind. In July of 2020, I started working with chef Nick Vella on the branding for Observation Pizza. We had been working together for a couple of months when I suddenly got the news he was killed in a fatal motorcycle accident. His passion was super inspiring to me and played a big part in my final push to go all-in on my own business. Life is too short to not bet on yourself.

KC Favorites

Coffee & Plants: “I love to grab coffee at Cafe Equinox inside Family Tree Nursery in Shawnee and treat myself to a plant if I have something to celebrate.”

 

Lunch Break: “Lunch at El Camino Real for al pastor and my favorite michelada.”

 

Dinner & Drinks: “Dinner at Waldo Thai followed by a drink at Campground in the West Bottoms.”

 

Late Night: “Finally, a drag show (or Late Night Theatre) at Missie B’s, where everyone knows to bring plenty of dollars to tip the queens. Then grab a lift to No Vacancy in the Crossroads where my Little Butter weekly assorted pastry box is waiting on my pillow and I watch reruns of Rare Visions & Roadside Revelations on KCPT until I fall asleep”

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